Song One (2014)

There’s no doubt in my mind that where and how you watch a film can materially affect one’s appreciation of it, whether at the cinema or at home, with a large or small audience, a receptive or a hostile audience, in a community centre, a church or in a foreign country: all kinds of factors can weigh in. For me, a good film to watch on an inflight entertainment system can be markedly different from what I’d choose on land. I’ve enjoyed some pretty questionable movies when miles up in the sky, quite often fluffy romcoms. And while it may not fall into that generic category, I’m not convinced that seeing Song One on terra firma would improve my estimation of it. It shares elements with the altogether glossier and bigger budget Begin Again, overlaid with an illness framework — in this case, that anthropologist Franny’s (Anne Hathaway’s) brother has been hit by a car and is in intensive care. She comes from Morocco to be by his bedside with their mother Karen (Mary Steenburgen), and from there falls into the company of his favourite musician James (Johnny Flynn), who plays the same kind of folky indie rock that Begin Again dabbled in. Sadly Johnny Flynn is no Mark Ruffalo, nor even Adam Levine, and doesn’t exactly radiate screen charisma, though I daresay that’s the point. Hathaway is always watchable, and there’s an admirable improvised feel to the scenes — certainly, it seems there are a lot of children of Joe Swanberg around in the US independent cinema at the moment. Franny’s quest to use her ethnographical skills to record the world in all its sensory nature and bring it to her brother’s bedside has some of the same obsessiveness that Ruffalo’s character deployed as a producer in Begin Again, and at times threatens to tip into unbearably twee (there are gramophones and vintage keyboards!), yet somehow it’s grounded by Steenburgen’s performance as a liberal, free-spirited mother with a penchant for Paris in the 70s. I could talk myself out of liking it pretty easily, but somehow it worked for me. At least, when I was in the air above Europe desperately looking forward to returning to the comfort of home. The poster says “a moment can change everything”, but a venue can change a film.


FILM REVIEW
Director/Writer Kate Barker-Froyland | Cinematographer John Guleserian | Starring Anne Hathaway, Johnny Flynn, Mary Steenburgen | Length 86 minutes || Seen on a plane from Istanbul to London, Wednesday 9 September 2015

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